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FOP Lawsuit Called ‘Pitiful’

City wants sanctions against union for litigation on cruisers

November 29, 2012
By IAN HICKS - Staff Writer , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

WHEELING - City officials want a judge to deny the Wheeling Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 38's request to amend its lawsuit against them, after the organization admitted there were errors in its original petition.

City Solicitor Rosemary Humway-Warmuth's filing this week in response to that request calls the FOP litigation a "pitiful attempt" to circumvent City Council's authority and the will of the people - and calls for court-imposed sanctions against lodge members and their attorney, Stephen Herndon, who are asking Judge Ronald Wilson to nullify the results of a Nov. 6 election in which Wheeling residents voted to overturn a 40-year-old law requiring the police department to assign two officers to each patrol cruiser.

The amended lawsuit corrects the dates of meetings during which the cruiser election was at issue. But the FOP persists in its claims that the Aug. 7 council meeting during which legislation to put the cruiser issue on the ballot was introduced violated West Virginia's open meetings law, and that council illegally held a second, "emergency" reading of the ordinance before approving it in a 6-1 vote on Aug. 21.

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Even with its most-recent alterations, the lawsuit filed by Wheeling’s Fraternal Order of Police still faces opposition from city officials.

Humway-Warmuth's response calls those allegations "outright falsehoods" and suggests the FOP waited until a few weeks before the election to file suit to cast doubt on the validity of the process.

"The facts could easily have been found in public documents such as the meeting minutes, agendas, newspaper legal advertisements, news articles, etc. Some of the falsehoods were even shown to have been made ... after they themselves had personal notice and knowledge contradicting the allegations" in the lawsuit, the city's filing states. "Such conduct should be considered sanctionable ... for both counsel and the individual Plaintiffs/Petitioners. ..."

Herndon did not immediately return a call seeking comment Wednesday.

Wheeling voters struck down the cruiser law by a margin of 6,773 to 3,905. Following the election, Police Chief Shawn Schwertfeger immediately moved the department to single-officer patrols for routine, targeted enforcement activities such as those aimed at catching DUI and traffic offenses, but said he planned to wait until the first of the year to make more comprehensive decisions on patrol staffing.

Both Schwertfeger and City Manager Robert Herron have said there are no plans to reduce the size of the department as a result of rescinding the requirement.

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